Haw Par Villa

Since moving to Singapore and reading about Haw Par Villa in the Singapore Lonely Planet Guide, we’ve always been intending to go. It took us more than seven years, but we finally paid it a visit.

It’s known for the Ten Courts of Hell attraction, a graphic depiction of a quasi-Buddhist Chinese afterlife of judgment, punishment and subsequent reincarnation.

The park, whose attractions are in states of repair that vary from recently repainted to cordoned off, has itself died and been reborn several times. It was fairly quiet but not completely empty when we went.

The park parts of the park are kinda nice if you can get over the creepy didactic sculptures, but I’m not eager to go back anytime soon.

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Below are 25 photos.

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The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

I enjoyed the heist aspects of The Thomas Crown Affair, but I hated the characters.

Although the movie is named after Mr. Crown (played by Pierce Brosnan), when the insurance investigator (played by Rene Russo) shows up, it seems the movie is going to be about her trying to catch him, or at least about him trying not to get caught. However, it’s actually about whether clever, cynical Crown can ever trust anyone, which is less interesting than a heist. Maybe it’s not a heist movie. Maybe it’s a romantic comedy with a heist in it. I don’t know. I’m confused. And so is Rene Russo’s character. In fact, she’s spineless. I hate spineless characters. (Like Elsa, for example. Don’t get me started.)


SPOILERS BELOW. Read on if you want to know why I think you should save yourself the trouble of watching this movie.

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Shaolin Soccer (2001)

I was eager to see the Chinese fantasy sports comedy Shaolin Soccer because I’d already seen and enjoyed Steven Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle. I think I liked Kung Fu Hustle better, but this wasn’t bad.

Steven Chow (writer, director, star) is a poor boy named Sing who has five brothers and who wants to bring Shaolin martial arts to the masses by packaging it in a unique way. He tries kung fu singing, but that doesn’t really work, and gets him and one of his brothers into trouble with some local rabble-rousers. Luckily, a crippled ex-soccer star is interested in teaching him to combine his kung fu with the game of soccer. Half the movie is gone by the time our protagonist has successfully recruited his brothers, seemingly unsuited for soccer, to form a team. Will this strange team be able to defeat the Evil Team, owned and managed by the cripple’s former rival? Yeah, probably so. And will our protagonist also win the love of the woman who uses kung fu for baking? Yep, that’s kind of a given, too. How do those two goals come together? That’s worth seeing.

The seams between the live action filming and the special effects are generally obvious, but the CG effects are amazing for 2001 and still pretty enjoyable. The best is when the Puma soccer ball turns into a puma.


SPOILERS BELOW, including a detailed plot summary in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

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Ubiquitous deceptions

When I was writing up Paul Ekman’s book Telling Lies, I started to try to make a list of all the movies and TV shows that were arguably related, then realized that there were too many for the list to be coherent.

Now that I think about it, it’s hard for any plot not to involve a deception somewhere along the way. Entertainment wouldn’t be entertaining if there were no mysteries and no surprises.

Assessing the hundreds of movies and shows in my collection to find out which have a strong lying theme is a big task, but here’s a first stab at listing them.

  • Oblivion (2013): you are not who you think
  • Shark Tale (2004): the snowballing consequences of lying
  • Accepted (2006): lying about college acceptance
  • A Thousand Words (2012): misuse of words
  • Catch Me If You Can (2002): being a con artist
  • The Usual Suspects (1995): lies about criminal guilt
  • Chicago (2002): lies about criminal guilt
  • The Matrix (1999): the world is a computer simulation
  • The Truman Show (1998): the world is a stage
  • Pinocchio (1940): lying makes your nose grow
  • Liar Liar (1997): pathological lying
  • Lie to Me (2009–2010): ascertaining truth as a career
  • Breaking Bad (2008–2013): lies about criminal guilt
  • House (2004–2014): everybody lies
  • My Fair Lady (1964): rags to riches
  • Pygmalion (1938): rags to riches
  • The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997): mistaken identity
  • Mulan (1998): gender masquerade
  • Mulan (2009): gender masquerade
  • The Incredibles (2004): superheroes in disguise
  • Speed Racer (2008): disguise
  • Gattaca (1997): impersonation
  • The Princess Bride (1987): disguise
  • Anastasia (1997): stolen/lost identity
  • Impostor (2002): aliens are among us
  • The Mask of Zorro (1998): disguise
  • Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009): aliens are among us
  • Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993–1997): disguise
  • Batman Begins (2005): disguise

Chinese for Dummies

I feel like my 2005 copy of Chinese for Dummies is a bit out of date, though apparently the 2013 edition also has a CD inside. (If you ask me, CDs were rightly mocked as obsolete by Nick in Zootopia.)

I’m a fan of the “for Dummies” series published by Wiley. I have dummies books on several topics, and in every case, the information inside is characterized by its simplicity and clarity. The dummies books are an easy first step into any topic, saving readers from needing to understand and evaluate a wide range of available reference books in an unfamiliar niche. Wiley’s got you covered.

This book’s tagline is “Speak Mandarin Chinese the fun and easy way”. Now, no matter how much I like and respect the dummies brand, I do not believe there is any book, or teacher, or class that can make Mandarin Chinese easy for a native speaker of English. That being said, a useful feature of this particular book is the Englishy spelling approximations (e.g., nee how) that are shown alongside the pinyin (e.g., nĭ hăo) to aid pronunciation.

Note that this book teaches readers how to speak Mandarin, not how to read or write it. That’s a totally different thing. This book has no Chinese characters in it anywhere.

Some things it does have:

  • a fascinating list of the different names for Chinese in Chinese and where and why they are used
  • a list of some Chinese proverbs
  • a cartoon for each part of the book
  • a verb list separate from the glossary
  • practice exercises and answers to them
  • bits of cultural knowledge and etiquette advice

Overall the book is fine, but it’s really for absolute beginners, and I’m not one.

Still, I suppose I should learn to say this sentence from page 162:

Wǒ zhēn xūyào liànxí.
I really need [to] practice.

Genre: Non-fiction (foreign language)
Date started / date finished:  10-Nov-15 to 22-Mar-16
Length: 314
ISBN:  047178897X
Originally published in: 2005
Amazon link: Chinese for Dummies

Find Your Strongest Life by Marcus Buckingham

Self-help, self-improvement, management and other advice books typically explain how you can fix the things that are wrong with you or improve the things that you are doing badly; few tell you that you’re already doing okay, actually, and not to worry, a message that may not sell a lot of books but that people nevertheless should hear more often.

What I loved about Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton was the positive, reassuring message that you should focus more on what you are good at rather than on your shortcomings.

I expected to hear more of that message in Find Your Strongest Life, but somehow it seems the book spent a lot of time describing in detail the problems of women who do not have their priorities straight: they are choosing to lead unfulfilling lives. And maybe you, reader, are one of those women! In fact, if you’re not doing this, that and the other thing, you probably are. If you identify more with this negative anecdote than this positive one, you definitely are, and you need to change.

That’s not a helpful message, actually; just more of the typical self-help snake oil: buy my book, follow my instructions, live a happy life. Don’t buy my book and follow my instructions, and you’ll be miserable.

Perhaps I’m not being totally fair.

The nine life roles Buckingham describes were interesting and useful to read about, and you can take a free Strong Life Test to see which role fits you best. (Edit: It seems it’s not available any longer.) The book also contains a lot of helpful tips on how to be more positive and shift your life towards your strengths.

The book just didn’t strike me as positive overall. Perhaps the underlying message still seems to be, “If you don’t do this, you’ll be unhappy… and you’ll deserve to be.”

What Stood Out

The metaphor that success isn’t like juggling (throwing lots of things away from you), but rather involves choosing which aspects of life to catch and bring closer to you (xviii).

The core insight that happiness often consists of time spent engaged in a challenging task of the specific kind that suits you (8).

The hypothesis that there is no universal karmic justice:

Life is not designed with anyone’s happiness in mind, and it has the disconcerting habit of not rewarding the good as much as we’d expect, of punishing the wicked less vigorously than we’d like, and even, on occasion, of getting the two completely mixed up (24).

The idea that yes, expertise takes practice, but that you’re more likely to practice things you like doing in the first place (164).

When and Why I Read It

Bought it very cheap at an atrium book sale in Singapore because I liked Now, Discover Your Strengths. which has apparently been superseded by Strengthsfinder 2.0.

Genre: non-fiction (self-improvement, business)
Date started / date finished:  20-Mar-16 to 22-Mar-16
Length: 263 pages
ISBN: 9781400202362 (hardcover)
Originally published in: 2009
Amazon link: Find Your Strongest Life

National University of Stairs

at Clementi Woods Park

“Walk 10,000 steps a day! Here are 70 steps to get you started! Have some scorching Singapore sunshine and a healthy dose of humidity, too! Oh, you’re carrying groceries? Fantastic! You can build arm and leg muscles at the same time!”

I live at Kent Vale at NUS. Since the word ‘vale’ means ‘valley’, and ‘NUS’ obviously stands for National University of Stairs, sometimes life seems like an uphill battle.

The “mystery” of the Cold Storage logo is solved.

You know the logo of the Cold Storage grocery chain? No? It looks like this:


I always assumed that green thing was an olive. In fact, I would have SWORN it was an olive. You could have won money from me on this. Now you’ve missed your chance.

Sometime within the past week or so, I asked my husband what he thought it was, and he said it was an apple. The penny dropped. An apple with a leaf makes so much more sense than an olive with a flame-shaped pimento…

I visited the Cold Storage website, and found this giant green-apple/red-leaf banner. So my husband’s eminently reasonable theory was confirmed.

I don’t understand why the leaf is red and the apple is green, because typically it’s the other way around, and it’s the weirdest-looking stylized apple I’ve ever seen, but an apple is undeniably what it is.

Two Books by Peter Walsh

It’s All Too Much was written before the obnoxiously titled Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat, and seemed a lot more useful.

Both books were written in a tone I found slightly annoying. It was a little too personal and informal. There were many pointed rhetorical questions. I guess I would have preferred a more analytical, objective style.

It’s All Too Much had some useful advice and did inspire me to clean out a few things. The other book convinced me that I should make the effort to buy groceries at the store that’s inconveniently on the other side of a steep flight of stairs and eat at home more often.

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